[PS-1.74] Syntactic conflict between languages in second-language sentence processing: An ERP study

Lemhöfer, K. & Mickan, A.

Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands

We investigated how learners at different stages of second language (L2) acquisition process syntactic L2 structures that stand in direct conflict with their mother tongue (L1). German learners of Dutch read Dutch sentences with sentence-final double infinitives (/Ik heb de vaas laten vallen/, literally /I have the vase let fall/, where the infinitives would be reversed in German, /..fallen lassen/) and made grammaticality judgments. Participants had been immersed in Dutch for either five weeks, six months, or 18 months. A control group of native speakers of Dutch was also included. Even though behavioral accuracy was comparable between L2 groups, the observed ERP patterns changed as a function of length of immersion: Beginners showed a broad and extended N400-like effect and no P600 for incorrect (German-like) sentences, while this pattern changed towards a reduced N400 and a larger, earlier, but not quite native-like P600 the more advanced the group was. In contrast, for a German-compatible control structure, ERP effects were native-like in the two advanced, but not in the beginner group, where again a N400 was observed. Results indicate that conflict between word order rules in L1 and L2 does indeed remain a particular obstacle to native-like processing throughout L2 acquisition.